Truth Matters.

The dialectic of the two ditches

in Opinion by

The following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Clarion, its staff or the institution. If you would like to submit a response or an opinion piece of your own, please contact Editor in Chief Abby Petersen at ajp87848@bethel.edu.

By Josiah Callaghan | For The Clarion

Greek mythology tells the tale of Daedalus and his son Icarus, who construct wings so that they may flee from their captor King Minos. As they leave, Daedalus warns his son that he must not fly too high or too low in order to protect the wax of the wings from being melted by the heat of the sun or soaked from the spray of the waters below. However Icarus fails to follow his father’s advice, foolishly flying higher and higher until the sun melts the wax holding his wings together. Icarus falls into the sea, to his death.

In a sense, life is a lot like walking a tightrope. It’s a delicate balance where if you lean a little too far in either direction, the result is equally disastrous. I have come to see, along with the ancient Greeks, that in many cases in life, the true path of wisdom is a matter of avoiding the two ditches of partial or incomplete truth which lie on either side.

To avoid the two ditches is to live in a tension between two apparent opposites. That is essentially what a dialectic is. I’ve always felt caught in the middle of this polarizing tension, in the convictions of my faith and my politics. I’ve never felt at home in either traditional, conservative or progressive Christianity. It often feels like a choice between the lesser of two evils. But I’ve come to believe that choice is not always binary.

When we pit a position on one end of a truth-spectrum against a position on the other end of that spectrum, polarization occurs. Josiah Callaghan

Several years ago, I was told by a family friend that I had a responsibility, even a duty, to vote for one of the presidential candidate’s even if if was a choice between the lesser of two evils. When I stated that I would rather not vote at all than compromise, I was told that my choice was idealistic and naive. Something about this line of reasoning has always struck me the wrong way.

The danger regarding the two ditches isn’t just about avoiding two extremes, it can also come in the form of setting two truths against each other. When we pit a position on one end of a truth-spectrum against a position on the other end of that spectrum, polarization occurs. What are sometimes meant to be truths held together in tension are instead seen as incompatible ideas that cannot be reconciled with each other. One is seen as the correct way to do things, while the other is seen as the antithesis of what should be done.

Perhaps we need to start seeing the conflicting ideologies as complementary pieces of a more comprehensive and balanced perspective. Josiah Callaghan

This polarization is widely illustrated in the realms of both politics and religion, which divide people along conservative and liberal lines.  Liberalism sees the importance of various forms of progress and conservatism sees the importance of various forms of tradition. Both sides consistently claim that they are in the right and that the other is sorely mistaken, often caricaturing and demonizing each other. But can it really be said that either side is entirely wrong? Or exclusively right? Is it the case that both sides are seeing parts of a larger truth? In clinging to an either-or paradigm instead of a dialectical view, both sides end up in opposing ditches, in unnecessary conflict with each other. Perhaps we need to start seeing the conflicting ideologies as complementary pieces of a more comprehensive and balanced perspective.

There is another way, especially for those of us who follow Christ. Somehow, Jesus called both a far-right tax collector, who upheld the status quo, and a far-left zealot, who believed in overthrowing the establishment, to come together and abandon their extremist ideologies. The truly wise will try to see the validity of opposing views and the concerns beneath what seem to be distasteful opinions or perspectives. Jesus called Matthew and Simon to follow a middle path of mutual acceptance and understanding in addition to being a prophetic voice of cultural challenge. The Gospel and the teachings of Christ compel us to follow this example. May we reject the ditches in our lives and in so doing, show the world something radically distinct.

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